Platitudes and Attitudes

OK, where to begin? I don’t even know. Here is a basic rundown of events over the past 10 days:

  • March 20: Mom passes away
  • March 21-24: Reeling and dealing
  • March 25: Mom’s viewing from 2-8 PM
  • March 26: Mom’s funeral
  • March 27: Laid off from my job
  • March 28-Present: More reeling and dealing

Yeah, that’s a real basic run down of the past week and a half. Nice, huh? Here’s what I’ve learned about myself in these 10 days, and what I’m trying to do to not fall apart.

I have learned that when someone experiences the loss of a loved one, people instinctively respond with either one of two responses. Sometimes both. “She’s in a better place” and “she’s not suffering anymore”.

While both statements are equally true, they miss the point of mourning. I am not sad for my mom. Heck, I’m actually envious. I wish I was at the feet of Jesus absent from human suffering. I’m sad because I miss her. There is a hole in my heart and life which can’t be filled by words. I will never hear her voice again, or kiss her or hug her. I miss all that.

Here’s the latest platitude now that I’m once again unemployed: “When God closes a door, He opens a window.”

Wow. Yeah, that’s not going to pay my bills.

Here’s the deal. I know without a shadow of doubt that every single person who has uttered those words to me over the past 10 days had the most wonderful of intentions. I know that. But please understand, once you’ve heard the exact same phrase a hundred times an hour, those good intentions become annoying. Ever have an itch and start scratching? Ahhh, it feels so good initially. But if you keep scratching the same spot, you’re going to break the skin and end up creating a painful cut. It become irritated, and what was once a soothing feeling now has created a whole new affliction.

I was telling a friend the other day that the absolute best and most meaningful comments I got were from friends who said they just didn’t know what to say, but they offered their friendship, their time, and any services I might need to get through the week. Whether it was providing a meal, going for a walk, listening, talking, giving me space…whatever.

I don’t know that everyone feels the same way I do during these times. I guess I’d just want to caution everyone to avoid the tried and true, rubber stamped responses to people in crisis. Words don’t fill holes or heal hurts. Sometimes it’s a hug, or just a friend being at the right place at the right time. Or simply availing yourself to them if they do need anything. Simply put, don’t feel obligated to say something profound or comforting. It’s going to hurt. It’s ok to feel pain. That’s part of it. Just remind them they’re not alone unless that’s what they need.

I am so incredibly grateful for the outpouring of love my dad and I have received from so many people during this time. I really am. If I sound like I’m not, I’ve failed at what I’m trying to say.

Alrighty, I guess I’ve dumped enough for now. Back to trying to find a job. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about my feelings on now having to deal with that in addition to dealing with the other events of the week.

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Breakfast On Mom Today

Today I drove down to pick Dad up and go to breakfast. We needed to deliver Mom’s new dress to the cemetery, but first, we went to IHOP for some morning sustenance. We both needed it.

We enjoyed some good conversation, sharing our feelings and experiences over the past few days. Though we’re going through things together, we’re also going through our own things. So it was special to kind of unload to someone who knows exactly how it feels.

As the bill came, I reached into my pocket, and Dad stopped me in my tracks with these words:

“Breakfast is on Mom this morning.”

That made no sense to me until he continued. He told me that he used to give her money from time to time, though she never went anywhere or needed it. But he would always slip her some money just in case anything happened to him and she needed cash on the spot. He hadn’t done that in some time, but it’s something he would do.

As he was going through some of her things yesterday, he found her purse. In it was a nice, crisp $20 bill. His first thought was that we would use that to enjoy a nice breakfast together this morning. And when he said it was “on Mom”, I instantly thought of the smile it must put on her face that she is still taking care of her men even though she’s gone from us.

It just doesn’t get any more special than that.

The Last Present

Every year at Christmas and birthdays, I would absolutely agonize over what to get my mom. She was impossible to buy for. Not because she was picky and tough to please, but because what do you get someone who spends 95% of her life in bed? A blanket? New pajamas? She doesn’t wear all the ones she has now!

Today, my dad called me because one final task needed to be done for her.

She needed a dress.

I went to Nordstrom Rack to find something that I thought represented her well. She hasn’t needed a dress for anything for years. Her body was so tiny at the end, anything that would have been in her closet from those days would have practically held two of her.

I found a dress which I think symbolizes the woman she was. It’s a simple dress, but oh so beautiful. The fabric is soft and stretchy, much like she was. She was so gentle, yet so flexible. She was graceful in any situation. Back in October for her birthday, I wrote about the time she took me to the race track to watch stock car races. That wasn’t her scene at all, but you’d never know it by watching her enjoy doing something her son would love. She cheered from every sideline as I participated in sports. She sat proudly to listen to me sing.

Whatever the occasion, she adapted beautifully.

The dress, as you can see, has long sleeves and a high neck, as she requested. In all things, my mother was modest. Even in her prime, she never wore anything or did anything to distract or draw attention to herself. Oh sure, there was the time she went into Burger King and ordered a Jumbo Jack, but I assure you, that was Mom at her best. She was funniest when it was accidental.

The woman couldn’t tell a joke for anything. She had a limited repertoire, but she had a few doozies she had committed to memory. For your enjoyment, I share with you a couple she loved most.

What did Mama Cannonball say to Papa Cannonball?

We’re going to have a beebee.

Why did the elephant stand on the marshmallow?

So he wouldn’t fall in the hot chocolate.

You didn’t laugh so much because they were funny, but because in her own way, her own cuteness, her own comedic ineptness, she was hysterical.

Back to the dress.

While understated, it’s elegant and classy. That very much described my mother. She didn’t have flashy jewelry, but she didn’t need it. She had an elegance which only made everything else that much more beautiful.

This last dress was an honor for me to buy her. This last dress is my final tangible gift to this beautiful woman. The cool thing is, I know she’d like it.

Some Songs Say It All

I’ve uploaded a new song on my player in the right column. It’s a song I’ve sung at funerals, and one which I’ve always felt says it all. So despite the lack of creativity on my part, I will post the lyrics to the song here, and offer it to you to listen to if you scroll down a few inches.

Whether you’ve been through this, are going through it, or it’s something that will likely be part of your life sometime down the road, I encourage you to listen to this song and absorb the lyrics and their message. As I contemplate these things, I know that the most selfless person I’ve ever known is enjoying her reward of a life lived honorably. Despite my pain, there is nothing I would do to pluck her from her new reality and return her to the physical torment she endured for so many years.

Mom, I’m sorry I won’t have the strength to sing this song in your honor this week, but you know my heart.

Our prayers have all been answered. I finally arrived.
The healing that had been delayed has now been realized.
No one's in a hurry. There's no schedule to keep.
We're all enjoying Jesus, just sitting at His feet.

Cho: If you could see me now, I'm walking streets of gold.
If you could see me now, I'm standing strong and whole.
If you could see me now, you'd know I've seen His face.
If you could see me now, you'd know the pain is erased.
You wouldn't want me to ever leave this place,
If you could only see me now.

My light and temporary trials have worked out for my good,
To know it brought Him glory when I misunderstood.
Though we've had our sorrows, they can never compare.
What Jesus has in store for us, no language can share.

You wouldn't want me to ever leave this perfect place
If you could only see me now
If you could see me now
If you could only see me now

Kim Noblitt, (c) 1992 Integrity's Praise/BMI and Dad and Dann Music
Sung by Truth (Russ Lee, soloist) on "Something to Hold On To," 1992.

Here She Comes!

Last night, within 10 minutes of my completing a post about my mother’s “transition”, I received the call from my dad. It was 10:26 PM.

“She’s dying.”

That was all that needed to be said. The next thing I knew, I was slipping on some shoes that wouldn’t require the time to tie. I grabbed the first shirt and pair of jeans I could find, and I was out the door.

At 11:01 PM on March 20, 2009, I was pulling off the exit to their house. Just then, my phone rang again.

“She’s gone.”

I prayed as I raced down I-80 and Highway 99 that she would hang on until I got there, but she was ready to go. The final stage of her transition didn’t last as agonizingly long as we were told it could. We’re told that those who cling to life, those who are afraid to die, hang on and suffer. Those who go quickly are at peace, knowing their job is done.

At different times, in different ways, we each released her. We each told her that her job was done.

For the past several weeks, I mentally had this particular post crafted already. In all honesty, I only had the ending of it ready. The first part was waiting to be written, and God wrote it last night. I just interpreted it in the first half of this post.

My planned closing to this post is about the short story Hospice gave us. I’ll share it with you, in my words. It’s about us standing on the seashore watching a ship disappearing into the horizon. We watch it seemingly get smaller and smaller as it drifts further and further away. Then finally, she’s gone from our sight. At that moment, we say “there she goes.”

However, on the other side of that horizon is her eternal home. Those who are there, ready to celebrate her arrival, shout, “HERE SHE COMES!”

Goodbye for now, Mom. I’ll always be your baby, and I’ll always be proud to be so!

Enter into your rest, good and faithful servant!

"She’s In Transition"

These were the words from the Hospice nurse yesterday. You don’t have to be a genious to understand what this euphemism means.

She has stopped eating. She pretty much only takes in water, and on rare occasions, the liquid nutrition of Ensure. She sleeps a lot. Hospice has told us that this is part of the “separation” process of leaving this world, and preparing for the next.

Another thing we’ve been told to expect was that her conversation would be a little confusing. She would be talking about places and people who are unknown to us. Just yesterday, she asked me if “Jim and Lisa” were an item. Neither Dad or I know to whom she was referring. She also said to the two of us that I had also seen the kitten that had come into the house. Dad looked at me, and I returned the look with, “what kitten?”

We’re pretty sure that’s the medication talking, but it is also part of the “transition”.

While Dad was out getting his hair cut, I overheard her talking to someone. She was carrying on a conversation. It seemed to be a very pleasant one, judging by the tone of her voice. It was actually quite sweet in its own way. I silently thanked God that whatever was happening in her heart and mind was peaceful and familiar, and not of torment.

We’re also told that the end may be nearing when she would ask for some favorite foods. Today, she wanted a croissant. She hasn’t had one in years, if ever that we can remember. And even if there were some in the house, she couldn’t eat it.

She is not the only one currently undergoing “transition”. My dad and I are facing a future which doesn’t include this magnificent woman. I had a dream the other night in which she appeared to me as she looked in her prime. Her beautiful hair, her gleaming eyes, and her sparkling smile. I’m not sure what that dream meant. I suppose it meant a lot of things, and things that I’ll understand more and more in the days, months and years to come.

What I do know is that her eternal home is ready for her. Her homecoming is in the final stages of preparation. While I won’t be there for hers, I know she’ll be right there, with gleaming eyes and that sparkling smile, when my day comes. She’ll be the one, as she was throughout my life, cheering me on in everything I did.

Lord, give her peace. In her mind and heart, in her dreams and as she’s awake, fill her with images and words from You. She’s eager to be at your feet. She’s loved you more than anything and anyone, and I simply pray that her homecoming will be as special as she is. But I know she’ll be in good hands, so I’m not worried.

**UPDATE: Within 45 minutes of this being posted, Sarah Jane Matelli slipped into eternity to be with Jesus.

An Amazing Night In The Cave

It’s nearly 11 PM as I begin writing this. I just got home a bit ago from this week’s Man Cave, and I have to tell you, it was an amazing night. I mean, I am involved with every moment of these nights for days, even weeks ahead of time. And when they all come together before your eyes, and those of a couple hundred other men, it’s awesome.

Tonight was a night to honor our military. Those who are serving now, and those who served in the past. At one point, we shared a video from a documentary about a soldier, Stephen McGowan, who died almost exactly 4 years ago in Iraq. He was known, and has since become famous as the “Beanie Baby” soldier. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into his entire story in detail. But he was known for giving Beanie Babies to Iraqi children he came across. People back home, many of whom he never met, would send him Beanie Babies to give away because they were easy for him to carry and give away.

He died from a blast of an improvised explosive device. Without going into gory details, a couple of his buddies went to heroic lengths to retrieve as much of Stephen as they could. They were determined that every bit of him would be returned to his mother. One of these men was his best friend, and a good friend of The Man Cave. He lives here in the Sacramento area and was featured in this documentary segment we showed. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend tonight.

Toward the end of the video, we sneaked a guest into the room. He waited at the rear of the room for his queue. As the video faded to black, a faint sound began to pierce through the fading applause. We had a live bagpiper there, and the men began to recognize the haunting melody of Amazing Grace. The men rose to their feet. At first, many of them thought it was from the video, but then they realized the sound was originating from behind them. Slowly, the bagpiper made his way from the rear of the room, and up a ramp to the stage. He pivoted, and continued to play from the front-most edge of the stage. Every light was off, except for one bright spotlight on the bagpiper.

Wow.

When he finished, you could hear a pin drop. For what seemed like minutes, but was really maybe 5-7 seconds, upwards of 200 men, myself included, gulped down the softball sized lumps in our collective throats.

You have to understand something. I was the one who talked to this guy days ago. I booked him. I told him of all the elements to the evening. Hours earlier, I walked him through the room, and gave him all of the details that would lead up to his moment. I had seen the video. But when it all came together in the service, the tears flowed down my face as if I had no idea it was coming. I couldn’t stop. It was more powerful than I was prepared for. I was prepared for the whole thing. It went exactly as I had planned it. But there was something in that moment that penetrated my heart in a profound way.

All gave some, but some gave all.

Why do I complain about the things I do? Why do I let things bother me which are so insignificant in the big picture of life? Am I more concerned with being successful in the world’s eye, or being a man of significance in God’s?

Fittingly, at the end of the service, we sang “Jesus Paid It All”. I’ve included it in my music player in the right column of this page.

It was a powerful night. One I’ll never forget.